UK retailers have said the presence of snacks at supermarket checkouts is “not the biggest issue” in obesity after a campaign was launched urging a ban of junk food at store queuing areas.

A Junk Free Checkouts campaign was this week launched by The British Dietetic Association’s, Dietitians in Obesity Management Specialist, Group (DOM UK) and the Children’s Food Campaign, calling for the Government to revisit proposals to ban junk food from supermarket checkouts.

The move follows the publication of a recent survey by DOM UK that found nearly 80% of shoppers believe the practice contributes to obesity. Two-thirds said they felt strongly enough to complain to the store, but only a few had done so, so customer views were going unheard.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), however, said it was important to “focus on diet more generally”.

“A customer is likely to have wheeled their trolley around the whole store possibly buying their groceries for the week ahead before they reach the tills, so what they do in that time is likely to have a much bigger impact on their diet than products in the queue for the check-out.”

The BRC added: “This issue is being discussed through the Responsibility Deal, and all retailers will consider the pledge once it is published before the end of the year. Many retailers have already done a substantial amount of work in this area: such as introducing healthier alternatives like nuts and dried fruit, or removing confectionery from all or many of the tills in their stores.”

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Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, said that since its ‘Checkouts Checked Out’ report in 2012, “a few” supermarkets -including The Co-operative Group and M&S – have responded by displaying more healthy snacks near the till. Lidl has also temporarily trialled “guilt-free lanes”, he said.

“But Asda, Morrisons and many others have barely improved at all, and none have permanently broken their junk-pushing habits. Unlike the government, we have no problem naming and shaming the worst offenders at the checkout. And we urge people to do likewise: to post their pictures, to do a simple audit of their local stores, and to hand in pass or fail cards at the till,” Clark said.

The nationwide survey of around 2,000 participants revealed that 78% of respondents said they found junk food at checkouts “annoying”. It also found 83% had been pestered by their children to buy junk food at the checkouts and 75% have given in to their children and bought something because they were pestered.

The Government, under its Responsibility Deal launched in 2011, received pledges from all leading supermarkets and food manufacturers to lower the fat and salt content of food products and adopt clearer labelling.

The Department of Health, however, is looking at a new voluntary code of practice on the marketing of products high in fat, sugar and salt under the Deal.